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Lose Weight by Counting Calories
By Jennifer R. Scott , About.com
Updated: July 22, 2008
About.com Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our www.about.com/health/review.htm">Medical Review BoardCalories -- knowing how to find them, how to count them and how to cut them, are key to lose weight on your own. Calorie counting is easy and effective. This article will help you understand what you need to know about calories.
The first step to losing weight by counting calories 1 is to understand what a calorie 2 is and how it applies to your weight. A calorie 3 is a unit of measurement that measures the amount of energy contained in a food or beverage.
Your body uses caloric energy to perform everything from basic biological functions to typing on your keyboard or jogging around the block. We all have a certain caloric requirement needed to maintain our current weight; if you eat fewer -- or burn more -- calories than that, you will eventually lose weight. This is called a caloric deficit 4. A good rule of thumb is that a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories leads to a weight loss of approximately one pound.There are several ways to determine the number of calories 5 you require each day in order to maintain your weight.
There is something called the Harris-Benedict formula that uses a mathematical formula to determine your caloric needs based on your sex, weight, and activity level; the result is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate 6. The U.S. government www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/discretionary_calories_amount_print.html">provides a chart 7 of suggested daily caloric needs as part of the www.mypyramid.gov/">My Pyramid.gov 8 Web site. Additionally, Calorie Count Plus 9 allows you to type in your weight, activity level and weight loss goals and receive caloric intake recommendations when you sign up for a free account 10.
Once you know the number of calories you need in order to maintain your weight, you can create your own caloric goals for losing weight. It's up to you how many calories you cut from your daily diet. Remember, it takes a calorie deficit 11 of 3,500 calories for you to lose a pound. Most people find it easiest and most effective to cut between 250 and 500 calories a day. Beware of cutting calories too low (below 1,200) as doing so can put your health at risk.
How Many Calories are in a Food?
3 of 5FDA.govThe next step in counting calories is to learn how to read a food label 12 to identify the caloric content of foods and beverages, or to find the calorie count for the item with another method, such as using your computer.
The products you purchase at the store have a label on them called the Nutrition Facts label. Here you will find a great deal of information about the food's nutritional content, including total number of calories per serving. The calories are located just below the thick black line and the words "Amount per serving". It is important that you also note the serving size listing on the label, which is located at the top, just below the "Nutrition Facts" heading.
You can also use Calorie Count Plus 13 to search for the nutritional information for many different types of foods, including restaurant foods, for free.
Additionally, food manufacturers, fast food restaurants, and other restaurant chains often provide the calorie information for their foods posted in the dining room, in a brochure, or on their Web site.Portion control 14 is the most important step of calorie counting 15. You must begin measuring your food based on serving sizes 16 in order to successfully count calories. For example, if a potato chip brand has 120 calories per serving, but you eat straight from the bag, how can you possibly know how many calories you have consumed? Adhering to the listed serving size is the key to tracking your caloric intake.
The simplest way to begin to track your portions is to buy and use a simple measuring cup. Many foods such as cereal and pasta are measured by the 1/2 cup or cup. Fluid ounces, such as a beverages, can also be measured with a measuring cup. Some foods such as peanut butter, pancake syrup, or jam are measured by the tablespoon. A few foods, such as stick margarine, can be difficult to measure with a spoon; a serving of margarine, for example, can be measured by using the "ruler" provided on the the product's packaging.
Other foods will list a serving as "x number of slices" or "x pieces" such a deli meat or candy, where you can simply count out the number of pieces that make a serving.
Some foods list a weight, such as an ounce, as a serving, which requires the use of a kitchen scale. However, if you search for that same food on a caloric database such as Calorie Count Plus 17, you may find an alternative form of measurement is provided, such as cups or "portion of package."
Lastly, many foods are available in "single serving" size packages. This means that you can eat all of the food in the package for the listed number of calories. It's important that you don't assume a package is a single serving. Look on the package's nutrition label and find the "servings per package" or "servings per container" section. If it says "1" then you do not need to measure or count the food to know your caloric intake.You can easily track your caloric intake online at Calorie Count Plus 18 by searching for and saving the foods and beverages you eat and trackig your caloric intake with a feature called your "eat meter". Calorie Count Plus also helps you track the calories you burn with physical activity with the "burn meter".
If you don't have access to a computer at all times, buying a simple notebook and a book that lists calorie counts for many types of foods will work. (Simply write your calorie goal at the top and subtract the calorie content of each food or beverage you consume as the day progresses.) You may also want to consider starting a food diary 19 to assess problem areas or emotional eating issues.
Review your daily diet as often as possible to identify ways to cut calories. It will probably be easy to find many "painless" ways to reduce your caloric intake. For example, if you are consistently going over your calorie goal by 100 calories, cutting out just one can of soda will eliminate that overage.
It's important that you identify foods to eliminate (or cut back on) with good nutrition 20 in mind. A healthy diet is comprised of protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains 21, low-fat dairy 22, and some fat 23. Simply avoiding high-calorie foods such as sodas, candies, cookies, chips, and fried foods, will help you avoid many extra calories. Before you decide to eliminate or choose a particular food, consider its nutritional value.(In other words, don't cut out a glass of orange juice in favor of using those calories for a cookie!)
To ensure you are eating a healthy diet, you can use the dietary guidelines offered by the U.S. goverment www.mypyramid.gov/">MyPyramid.gov 24 Web site or the www.diabetes.org/home.jsp">American Diabetes Association 25 www.med.umich.edu/1libr/aha/aha_exchlisa_crs.htm">exchange diet 26 if you are diabetic 27. You may also find the About.com Nutrition 28 site to be helpful.
The link to this article is provided above, if you care to learn more. Now come on boys and girls, we can do this!
One thing or sure, there are so many good cooks here, I almost need to tape my lips together before I come here to look at recipes.
And then there's the inspiration I get from reading all these recipes...several times I've hit the kitchen with a vengence, cooking up a bunch of stuff then having to take it to work and feed the guys since I live alone. They LOVE it, lol.